Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Condom-clad characters to take on AIDS

CAMPAIGN The creators of a series of public service spots, which are available in 41 languages, hope that young people will heed their safe-sex message

AP , UNITED NATIONS

A new global campaign to stop the spread of AIDS uses three animated characters dressed as condoms to deliver a serious message in humorous public service spots in 41 languages: If you're going to have sex, use a condom.

The short spots are being offered free to broadcasters, community groups and universities and have the potential of reaching 80 percent of the world's population, Canadian producer-director Firdaus Kharas said Tuesday.

"We're using humor to stop the spread of AIDS," he told a news conference launching the public service announcements which are targeted at young people aged 15 to 24 in places threatened by the epidemic, including India, China, Russia, the Caribbean and central Asia.

"The Three Amigos" -- as the cartoon condoms named Shaft, Stretch and Dick are called -- are pictured in a variety of settings from a spaceship to a soccer field to a casino. Twenty different spots are available in each of the 41 languages and they vary in length from 20 to 60 seconds, with some quite blatantly sexual and others much more restrained to appeal to different audiences.

The punch line in the spaceship spot says: "No condom, No blastoff. Stop the spread of AIDS." The soccer spot says: "You just can't score without a condom." And the spot focusing on a roulette wheel in a casino says: "Not all gamblers realize the odds stacked against them. Don't gamble with your life. Use a condom. Stop the spread of AIDS."

Kharas said the idea for the spots came from his co-producer, South African film writer Brent Quint, who believes as he does that AIDS is "a preventable disease," and that using animated figures and humor can get the message across that condoms are essential for safe sex.

The spots are currently being shown in South Africa, Canada and the Netherlands and have already won 25 international awards and a strong endorsement from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu who called them "a powerful communicating tool to encourage people to change their behavior."

Kharas said the most popular spot being shown in South Africa is one promoting a female contraceptive.

Asked how the spots had been received in the US, where President George W. Bush's administration is promoting abstinence rather than condom use, Kharas said arguing about abstinence vs. condoms "is sterile" because 5.3 million people got the HIV virus last year.

"The Three Amigos" was conceived and written in South Africa. The characters, props and layouts were designed and created in Canada, and the background and animation was done in India, Kharas said. More than 320 people volunteered their time and expertise to the project to support the campaign against AIDS, he said.

Kharas expressed hope that with spots now available in Arabic, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin, and a host of other languages, the audience will grow and the HIV and AIDS epidemic will eventually start to decline.

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